Paul Chryst kicked off his first spring as head coach with an introductory press conference at the UPMC South Side practice facility Wednesday. For the most part, Chryst gave a brief glimpse at his philosphy of running this year's spring practices.
"I think spring ball, you have different objsectives," Chryst said. "For (the coaching staff), it's putting in new systems. For the players, it's getting to know coaches. The first five days, really the first third (of spring) is really teaching, implementing our systems, skills, techniques. Five days of the 15 is really just letting them play, letting them keep growing, seeing what their strengths and weaknesses are, then can we keep going. I'm looking forward to it, we're excited to be out there on the field, starting the 2012 football season."
An even bigger part of it is that it's Chryst just running his own show for the first time. Typically, in any type of practice whether it's spring or fall, practices become chess matches between offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators to outdo the other. He looks forward to his new role, which will be overseeing the whole operation and not having to worry just about how his side will fare.
"I am looking forward to the fact that I can always be on the side that did well," Chryst joked. "It gives me freedom. I can leave an area and go somewhere else. I'm looking forward to it. One of the things that helps is complete trust and appreciation for the staff, not feeling you have to micromanage something."
As for any open competition, Chryst wouldn't get specific with any particuar postion battle that he's watching. He feels that there are some returning starters who should be able to resume their roles as starters if they perform up to capabilities. He also wants to keep it open in hopes of pushing others.
One thing much different from Chryst and the previous two head coaches, is the fact that he has shied away from singling out an individual for a good practice, or even someone who's maybe stood out as a leader through his early communications with the team.
"Eleven on offense, eleven on defense," Chryst said, answering a question of how many positions would be up for grabs this year. "Really, the great thing about sports is every game you have to prove yourself. We can make a bet on spots, and they still have to go out and do it. (Positions) are really are open."
Even when asked about quarterback, he didn't go too far in to talking about what he hopes to accomplish with the position, and what he expects to see out of a returning starter like Tino Sunseri.
"The quarterback position is no different from anyone else," Chryst said in regards to placing an emphasis on one position over the other. "Certainly Tino is no different than anyone else. Every interview I've done, Tino has been asked about. What I've learned about him and what I know about him is something that I don't have to share. I'm looking forward to working with him."
While Chryst didn't go into specifics on certain individuals or position, there were a few individual names that came up. There were a number of position switches when the official roster was updated this morning. Chryst also declared Ray Graham and Todd Thomas officially out for the spring. Other key returnees such as Jarred Holley and Chris Jacobson will be limited, in addition to a few others that he did not name.
As for those position switches, the most intriguing is Brandon Ifill moving from safety to wide receiver. Lafayette Pitts move from safety to corner, Devin Cook moves from linebacker to defensive end as does Bryan Murphy and LaQuentin Smith. Jason Frimpong moves from safety to linebacker. E. J. Banks moves over to quarterback, as does Anthony Gonzalez. Adam Lazenga moves to fullback from linebacker, Justin Virbitsky moves back to the offensive line and Steve Williams moves from running back to linebacker.
Chryst did talk about his philosophy on that. In some cases, he and his staff may move a player to a certain position to fill out numbers. In the case of someone like Ifill, he'll grant a player's wish to move to another position.
"It was guys coming to me, saying they want to change positions," Chryst said. "My approach is enough to know you should state your personal opinion if a guy wants to be somewhere else, to give themselves a chance. They have to be all in, and they can say, 'At least I tried it.'"
One other note of significance will be the return of Dan Mason, who missed all of last year recovering from a knee injury sustained in the third game of the 2010 season. Chryst said Mason is back, and will be participating in spring drills.
"I'm anxious," Chryst said of Mason. "One thing in going out to high schools, is to hear how many area coaches and what they thought of Dan. I've gotten the history (of the injury) He's going to go out and he'll practice. I'm anxious to see how he does. He's anxious. Hopefully it ends up being a good thing for Dan, which I think will be a good thing for us."
Pitt kicks its off its first spring practice Thursday at 8:45 am.